Review in a Hurry: Remember The Fan, with crazy Robert De Niro stalking baseball player Wesley Snipes? You know how most insane sports super-fans don't look so much like De Niro, but more like Patton Oswalt? So does this movie.
The Bigger Picture: Robert D. Siegel, writer of The Wrestler, has picked yet another tragic subject for his directorial debut, but instead of a has-been, Paul Aufiero (Oswalt) is a never-was, a grown man who lives with his mother while eking out a living working in a parking garage. Yet he attains a minor level of semi-anonymous celebrity as a regular caller to a sports-talk radio show, on which he delivers elaborately written rants attacking the New York Giants' opponents as though he's speaking off the cuff.
So sad is the life of this super-fan, though, that he can't even afford actual game tickets; instead, he and best friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) drive to the stadium parking lot to listen on the radio. And one day, when they catch sight of Paul's favorite player, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), they have the ill-conceived notion of following him, first to what looks like an inner-city drug den (though the naïve duo totally miss this fact), and then to a strip club, where they finally get up the nerve to approach him, and Paul earns a beatdown for his troubles.
Bishop gets a suspension, but Paul won't press charges, as he'd rather die than put his favorite player on the shelf for any reason. But as the full extent of his injuries becomes clear, as well as the extent to which the Giants' playoff chances depend on Bishop, something has to give.
Fans of Oswalt via either his standup act or his voiceover in Ratatouille should be forewarned that this is, um, different. While his standup has often celebrated the joys of geekdom (his rant on the Star Wars prequels is gospel among the faithful), this is a movie about the uglier side of fandom, the fact that for some people, fandom is the only outlet in their lives, and how they just might do anything to protect that.
At the same time, though the comic is clearly reaching for a deeper acting performance than he's ever given before, the script can't help but sometimes mock with cheap cliches—was it really necessary for the character to be living with his mother? Why not the basement, while you're at it? Siegel seems conflicted about whether to make Paul a figure of sympathy or ridicule, and tries to tread a fine line between the two, but let's just say he's no Man on Wire. Observe and Report director Jody Hill could probably have pulled it off.
Oswalt effectively demonstrates that he's ready for more than just funny stuff, but it'll take a less one-note movie to really let him show something.
The 180—A Second Opinion: Points for resurrecting the old John Prine song "Sweet Revenge" for the end credits – it feels as timely as ever.
Read our review of another new flick just out today, Taking Woodstock.